The Players Championship 2022: Australia’s Cameron Smith Gets the Biggest Win of His Career

The Players Championship Cameron Smith takes a swing while wearing a pink golf shirt and a white hat
Cameron SmithJoe Marino/UPI / Shutterstock

Cameron Smith won the wet, wild, and windy Players Championship on Monday, a day after the tournament was initially expected to finish up. It’s the biggest win of the 28-year-old Australian’s career, and the biggest win anyone has notched in professional golf in the still-young 2022 season.

In a week that saw The Players Championship (played at TPC Sawgrass) destroy most of the world’s top players, Smith got the best of the course. His winning score was 13 strokes under par. He survived a penalty on his 72nd hole, when he got too much of a punch shot out of the woods and rolled it into the big water hazard that runs along the left side of the 18th fairway. The shot that ultimately spared Smith, in a one-stroke win over India’s Anirban Lahiri, was the ensuing 58-yard wedge Smith hit to within a foot of the hole. His bogey putt from there was enough to win on what amounts to his local course—Smith lives in nearby Ponte Vedra, FL.

The Players Championship draws as deep a field as any event in golf, including the four major championships. The PGA Tour has worked hard to make it into a prestige event, most notably by juicing the total purse to a record $20 million this year. The world’s top pros all played (save for a few injured golfers and Phil Mickelson, who was dealing with his own problems). It seemed inevitable that the tournament would come down to a couple of the world’s most elite players going after each other. But in the end, it came down to one of those players, Smith, demonstrating that he was a cut above the rest.

Here’s what defined the week, other than Smith winning $3.6 million.

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The Players Championship 2022 Recap

1. Aside from Smith, the weather was the biggest winner.

A rainstorm blew into the area during Thursday’s opening round, causing a big delay and ensuring that much of the field wouldn’t finish their 18 holes. More rain came on Friday, which turned out to be a nearly complete washout. The PGA Tour suspended play shortly after 11 a.m., and the rain never let up. Dozens of players didn’t finish their first rounds until Saturday, when they’d normally be in their third rounds or already cut.

Even when the rain let up, strong winds made the course brutally difficult. On Saturday morning, the wind was blowing around 22 miles per hour while a handful of the world’s best players were still trying to wrap their opening rounds. They stepped up to the tee on the 17th hole—famous for its island green—and one after another, the wind sent their shots into the water.

The wind was an acute problem on the 17th, but it bothered players all over the course. Watch Xander Schauffele, an elite approach player, try to get a wedge to stop on the 18th green. The wind ruins it:

Saturday was the worst of the wind, and players who played their entire second rounds that day—as opposed to partly on Friday or Sunday—were fighting an uphill battle. Those players averaged a score nearly two strokes worse in that round than everyone else. By Sunday afternoon, basically the whole top echelon of the leaderboard was comprised of players who did not have to play their full second rounds in the Saturday winds.

The tournament did feature some great shot-making, though. Shane Lowry aced the 17th on Sunday, prompting a delightful celebration:

Viktor Hovland made his own hole-in-one at the longer par-3 eighth hole on Monday, during his third round:

The best in the world are still the best in the world.

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2. The weird weather totally reshuffled the leaderboard.

The immense talent in the field makes The Players Championship a hard tournament for a scrappy underdog to win. Go through the last decade’s worth of winners, and it’s a list of major winners, near-major winners, and big names who contend in various tournaments all year: Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler (before his career went rapidly downhill), Martin Kaymer, and Tiger Woods. You don’t come out of nowhere to win The Players.

And yet the conditions this week opened the door to exactly that outcome. By Monday morning, while the third round was wrapping up, only two past major winners, Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen, had better than a two percent chance to win, according to the projection model at analytics site Data Golf. Aussie Cameron Smith, ranked 10th in the world, was the only top-10 player in contention. The Players, for a rare change, had a power vacuum.

The final group to tee off on Monday was Lahiri (No. 322), Sebastián Muñoz (No. 65), and Doug Ghim (No. 252). They had just one PGA Tour win between them. The next few groups had more typical contenders—Smith, Lowry, Paul Casey, Sam Burns, and even recent tour winner Tom Hoge—but still lacked the expected firepower. As the final round revved up in the early afternoon (and after Smith started his day with a sprinkling of early birdies), the tournament began to feel like a battle of the Australian against everybody else.

The rest of the players bunching near the top of the leaderboard made mistakes. Smith did, too, but he bounced back from them in style—and enough to set himself apart.

3. Weather aside, it’s a career-defining win for Smith.

Smith was due for a result like this one. Ranked 10th in the world entering the week, he was already on the list of young stars in line for a marquee win.

On Monday, Smith was ice. His putting never wavered all afternoon, and he repeatedly got himself out of trouble after spraying tee shots into unfriendly terrain. He birdied five of the first six holes in his final round, but closed his front nine with three straight bogeys. He answered that with four more birdies to start his back nine, and it was his putter that managed, time and again, to keep him out of trouble.

Smith had some good breaks. He played on the right side of the draw early in the week, of course, and also got some choice luck on the 16th hole on Monday afternoon. His playing partner, Casey, was two shots behind Smith when the Aussie put his tee shot into the woodlands to the left of the fairway and Casey piped his right down the middle. But Casey’s ball came to rest in a pitch mark, denying him a chance to fire his second shot at the green and set up an eagle or birdie.

Both players made par, and Smith essentially won the tournament by draining a birdie at the 17th to grow his lead to three shots. Smith tested himself on the 18th, but he’d given himself enough of a cushion to hold off Lahiri, who couldn’t make birdie to tie him.

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